When computers fail, Herald can’t go back to lead type

Imagine a mechanic diagnosing and repairing a car’s engine while the vehicle is speeding down the road.

And the driver is trying to beat the clock.

That’s the position in which Herald Technical Services Manager Michael Lapham found himself Wednesday night. The Herald’s news desk and the sports desk worked to finish editing stories and putting articles and photos on pages to make the deadline for Thursday’s edition. If editors made that deadline, the press would start on time, route drivers would get their papers on schedule and The Herald would be on your doorstep when you expected it.

As with many businesses, much of what The Herald does depends on computers and networks, which sometimes fail, usually without warning.

On Wednesday at 9:15 p.m., 90 minutes before the Herald’s deadline, Lapham got a call at home. The computers and servers that allow editors to create newspaper pages had failed.

Sometimes the solution to such a failure is simple: just reboot the computer and go home.

But Wednesday night was different.

“As soon as I saw the problem, I got sick to my stomach,” Lapham said Friday, even as work continued to restore lost data and return things to normal.

Simply put, Lapham said, the system’s server, where data files are stored, had been corrupted and could not locate data. No data, no pages.

Putting things simply is one of Lapham’s skills, said the Herald’s publisher, David Dadisman.

“He’s able to dumb everything down for people like me when a server or disk has been corrupted. What does that mean? And what we have to do to get back on our feet?” Dadisman said.

Lapham worked first to restore some functionality for editors, who then were able to work outside the system. A page template, taken from a sports editor’s thumb drive, allowed editors to begin cobbling together pages, sometimes copying stories that had already been sent to the HeraldNet website. It resembled desktop publishing more than newspaper production.

The computer system The Herald uses is a network of software programs, processes and hardware used by the newspaper’s different departments. Knowing how those programs and processes work together is another of Lapham’s talents. As is listening to an employee describe a problem and then determining where the failure lies.

Lapham must stay current on technologies that evolve quickly. He reads online forums and articles and can point to a stack of magazines “that high” on his desk waiting to be read.

“You have to be a very smart person,” said the manager in charge of information services, Jorge Rivera. “You have to be very knowledgeable. You have to be resilient and not get frustrated and stick with it until it’s fixed.”

Lapham stuck with it, running diagnostics, talking with software and hardware company technicians as processes were brought back online, one at a time. Lapham got no sleep Wednesday night, and managed six hours Thursday night before returning to mop-up remaining problems Friday.

In the end, Lapham said, it was a credit to employees, from the newsroom to the pressroom, that The Herald was only an hour late getting to route drivers Thursday morning.

It’s challenging work with an added demand, Rivera noted, because The Herald has almost 50,000 people who wake up and expect to find their paper on their doorsteps in the morning.

Each week, Here at The Herald provides an inside peek at the newspaper. Is there something you would like to know? Email executive editor Neal Pattison at npattison@heraldnet.com.

More in Local News

Man arrested after police find van full of drugs, cash and guns

An officer on patrol noticed a vehicle by itself in the middle of a WinCo parking lot at 2 a.m.

Jim Mathis, the Vietnam veteran whose Marysville garden was recently featured in The Herald, died Wednesday. Mathis, who suffered from PTSD and cancer, found solace in his beautiful garden. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Vietnam veteran Jim Mathis found peace in his garden

The Marysville man who served two tours died Wednesday after suffering from cancer and PTSD.

Smith Island habitat restoration cost to rise $1.2 million

The project is intended to increase survival rates for juvenile chinook salmon.

Add deputies and bump taxes a bit, executive proposes

Dave Somers’ Snohomish County budget proposal also would address traffic problems in neighborhoods.

County councilman proposes banning safe injection sites

Nate Nehring says county officials also should find “credible, long-term solutions to addiction.”

Car crashes near Everett after State Patrol pursuit

The driver and a second person in the car suffered injuries.

They chose the longshot candidate to fill a vacant seat

Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick will serve as representative for the 39th legislative district.

Alien brain? No, a colony of harmless freshwater creatures

Bryozoans are tiny invertebrates that live in jelly-like masses, and their presence is a good thing.

Definitely not Christmas in July for parched young trees

“I live in Washington. I should not have to water a Christmas tree,” says one grower. But they did.

Most Read